Thursday, April 12, 2012

the price of abolishing the death penalty


Hal Pepinsky,,

April 12, 2012

Connecticut has just abolished their death penalty. I have heard one advocate for abolition say that a new strategy is to get capital punishment abolished state by state until the US Supreme Court recognizes that even in our country, executions have become cruel and unusual punishment.

Meanwhile here in Ohio home, over 200 clergy petitioned the governor to stop a forthcoming execution--commute the convict’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole, which sentence could only be changed by executive clemency or pardon, so far unheard of.

A capital trial is massively expensive both because of legal forces mobilized, and steps taken like screening of potential jurors, plus the requirement that if convicted, a separate sentencing hearing must be heard by the trial jury with evidence formally gathered and introduced on factors that aggravate and mitigate the defendant’s act of murder--especially costly to poorer rural counties.

Some people, especially those who have done hard time, argue that from a prisoner’s perspective, life without parole is as draconian and punitive as execution, perhaps even more so because it tends to prolong the prisoner’s hell on earth. Given the option, I wonder how many of those serving life sentences without parole might seek lethal injection as a way out, analogous to the couple of times I have held beloved pets as they were euthanized late in life to spare them suffering. Prosecutions for life without parole proliferate in cases where having sought the death penalty would have been deemed not worth the expense. Given the odds that those prosecuted and sentenced to life without parole will predominantly be young men of color, as prison populations age, racial imbalances among prisoners can be expected to grow.

Before life without parole, US sentences were already extraordinarily long by world and hemispheric standards. With life without parole as an option, the length of sentences served in the US has taken a great leap forward. Under these circumstances, I’m a little reluctant to celebrate as death penalty abolition progresses. Love and peace--hal

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